Life Stories: Steven Huang, Head of Diversity & Inclusion @ Culture Amp
Steven is a good friend. And the 1st international #LifeStory here on #colourfull. He is the perfect example of someone who leads a colourfull life 🌈 – you know when he is in the room because his positivity is infectious, he stands proud and sets an example for others! Over the past year, he has worked hard to move the perception and understanding of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) to greater heights including cutting edge research on Intersectionality as well as his own consulting business Millennial HR Design. And these things matter; work is woven into the fabric of society and if we can truly be ourselves at work, we create bigger societal shifts just by being visible and having a voice.
31 (and a half), cisgender male, gay, Chinese-American (currently living in San Francisco).
Life Right Now
My career has been defining for me in the last year. I’ve worked to broaden the definition of D&I so that everybody can be invested in the work; be that at our workplaces, with our customers and especially in our personal lives. This subject isn’t something you can dabble in, you are awake to it and have to lean in. I’m even more aware of the challenges of different minority groups and the world we live in. Outside of that, I’m a vegetarian and LOVE electronic music. Be that a rave or a music festival. In London, I love going to Fabric and Ministry of Sound. There is something about the music, and the way it frees people. When you’re at a music festival, you see and even feel what diversity and inclusion represents; everyone in that moment is dancing, working together to create an energy regardless of background or differences. I go to festivals for my D&I inspiration – to remind myself of the vision I work to create. Everyday should be like a music festival – it’d be euphoric!
I first knew I was different in elementary school, that I was different and I wasn’t quite attracted to the girls. It was only in middle school that I began to learn more and remember reading an encyclopaedia that had a word for what this was – ‘homosexuality’. I also remember flicking through my brother’s Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue; casually skipping past the pages with women and looking intently at the handsome men. That was definitely an awakening.
Being gay and a POC today is empowering. The tide is turning, the fact that you (Dee) can create a platform like #colourfull would not have happened 10 years ago. We need to be grateful to those who came before us, the LGBTQ people of colour that have bought us to this place. It’s now our job to shepherd this legacy into the future.
My Family & Culture
My family were supportive. I remember my Dad asking me who I danced with at a school dance: “any girls… or boys?”. Clearly, he was pretty aware – even more so since my older brother is also gay! Between my parents and brother, they weren’t surprised when I came out. They were incredibly supportive and I consider that a great privilege in my life.
Culturally, I don’t score high affiliation with my racial identity. Being born in the US with an American name and not having learnt my native tongue, I identified simply as American. My friends were predominantly White and Chinese, and so this additional pressure of having to navigate my culture didn’t really exist. As I’ve grown older, I’ve met many others who have had to, and am aware of prejudice and bias. And despite all of that, we’ve made it. We’re a product of our parents who were immigrants, and their values have been passed onto me – hard working, academic, being focused and their ability to overcome adversity. That helps me even today.
There were no visible, gay POC role models as I was growing up in the media or society. It would have been so helpful having a Cinderella type story for a person like me. I spent so much of my life feeling invisible and that I didn’t belong. But my family and friends accepted me for who I was, which allowed me to see the benefit of feeling invisible: I could be whoever the fuck I wanted to be. There was no script, I could invent and define my own identity, rather than conforming to someone else’s expectations. I had a chance to be original; and that is a driving force within me.
I was outed in 9th grade at school (14 years old) and I’ve written about that experience here. The experience was out of my control; I would have liked it to be different, but I can’t change my past and have made my peace with it. It was incredibly difficult for me to tell that story, but I realize now how important it is for us to tell our stories to create empathy and understanding. While others may have “known” about my sexuality before I did, I was pushed out of the closet before I was ready. Talking about it reminds me that low points in life will not and cannot define me.
With my family, I remember coming home from college during break (being 21 or 22) and I was completely drunk. I barged into my parent’s bedroom and went for it. I told them that I was gay, had my nipples pierced, that I’d done drugs and that I had credit card debt. I threw the kitchen sink at them! My Mum is an accountant, and of all the things she focused on was my debt and credit cards, she did not like that! I think their support and acceptance has a lot to do with my brother also being gay and paved the way for me which I’m very grateful for.
San Francisco is a haven for people that are escaping prejudice and seeking acceptance – that social context definitely played a part in my coming out experience and being accepted.
In college, I didn’t want my sexuality to be my focus and the thing that defined me – I was really good at Math. I graduated in 2009 at the time of the recession and became a Life Insurance Actuary. Although I was out, I lived in Hartford, Connecticut and didn’t have any out co-workers. I made a conscious sacrifice to cut my teeth in a difficult profession at the expense of suppressing part of my identity at work. For those 2 years in my young adult life, I made huge advancements in my career – but I was celibate and unhappy.
I was then tapped to start the People Analytics function at Facebook in Palo Alto (Silicon Valley). It was the best career decision I ever made, as I started working at a place that was so accepting and celebrated you for who you were. I reconnected with my sexuality. The move to Facebook had a much bigger impact than just my career, but it was my work that took me there in the first place.
Given the role I have now, anyone can do it if you have the passion and dedication. Of course it helps that I’ve lived through adversity as a minority group, it makes those discussions more authentic and I can speak to issues from my lived experience.
Love, Dating & Relationships
At the moment I am single and happily dating. From the moment I came out until the age of 27, I always wanted a boyfriend – but it had never quite happened. And then I met my first boyfriend (Alex) at a music festival and we were together for 3 years. Thank God for Alex! With him I learnt that I am capable of loving someone and worthy of being loved.
The notion of race in dating is an issue. I attended a QPOC (Queer People of Color) panel and spoke to one of the panellists who was an adult film star and asked him if my own biases were behind why I hadn’t dated many Asian people. He helped me realize that I had internalised all the oppressive messages in wider society about Chinese men (that we’re feminine, that we have small cocks, etc.) – he was right. I’d hated my sexual self until that moment. Since then, I’m aware of the beauty around me in a deeper way and confront my own biases when dating people of colour. We have to work to deconstruct our own biases, and be open to examine every part of our lives and decision making. It’s been a challenging year, but I am so much richer from working through it.
As a community, we’ve made so much progress in our continued fight against prejudice and hate. I feel most proud in the way we come together at unfortunately times of trauma. I was at a music festival a week after the Orlando Pulse massacre in 2016; my favourite DJ group, Above and Beyond, made a ‘Love Wins’ tribute and every LGBTQ person in the crowd was bawling; tragically united in that moment of grief. When times are dark, we need to remember to shine even brighter. And when we’re working together, our light shines brighter than when we’re divided.
For us to advance, we need to harness the power of storytelling. When advocates hear our stories, it affirms we are fighting for the right things and we can’t be erased. It humanises us and shows that we have dreams, ambitions and visions for the future. That we matter and have a right to exist. Storytelling is absolutely the key!
There are some Queer people that are carving new pathways in Diversity and Inclusion:
Tariq Meyers: Global Head of Belonging, Inclusion and Employee Experience at Coinbase
Stephanie Lampkin: CEO and Founder of Blendoor
Michelle Kim: CEO of Awaken
Words of Wisdom
Acceptance and belonging are necessary – seek it out for yourself and don’t give up until you have it. Accepting and loving yourself is a key part of our growth.
Once you experience acceptance and belonging for yourself, work tirelessly to create that environment for others. It’s a wonderful thing to pass onto others and many need it, such as the Trans community.
Self-care and love, whatever this looks like. For me it’s the simple things like sleep, hydrating and moisturising. It’s important to ensure you feel wonderful and let the world see you at your most beautiful self, however that manifests itself.
With that, time was up. Dinner at Cecconi’s in Shoreditch was calling! Spending time with Steven is such a joy. And I left that evening feeling inspired, confident and that I was worthy enough to create colourfull. Taking a leaf out of Steven’s book, we can focus on the good and use our voices and platforms to lift one another. And #colourfull is here to do exactly that.